It was 4:15pm Saturday afternoon and I was rushing up the main road from our house to the next city over. Traffic was not cooperating.
“Will we get there in time?”
My daughters in the back of the car knew we were pressed for time.
“You bet. We’ll be there right on time.”
The problem was, getting to an event that you’re running “on time” isn’t on time at all. It’s late.
We were on our way to my oldest daughter’s birthday party which was scheduled to start at 4:30… and we were still about ten minutes out… and we had all of the decorations and food and drink in our cars.
In my mind as I drove I went through a couple of wishful thinking scenarios…
…maybe we had the space reserved at 4:30 but the party didn’t start until 5…
…maybe there are two rooms and there’ll be a separate place for us to set up…
But in reality the party really did start at 4:30, it was in one big room, and all we could do was work together to bring all of the final pieces together quickly. My wife had expertly planned and prepared all of the food and drinks and decor, so it was just a matter of of unloading and setting up, which didn’t take long. Meanwhile, my girls were more than happy to chatter with the other girls arriving for the party and start getting set for what was to be a two and half hour painting session.
As we rushed back and forth between the car and the painting studio and ’round and ’round the studio itself with platters and cake and punch, all while shepherding ten year olds and their parents to smocks and palettes, my brain actually had the wherewithal to think:
This feels just like my virtual events.
Virtual Event Plan Ideation
There’s something to be said for sitting quietly with your thoughts.
Several times a year I will put on a massive virtual event with dozens of speakers and thousands of attendees, or I’ll help another brand determine the best virtual event strategy for an event of their own, and every time I spend days and weeks just thinking about and planning for the big day. Armed with Asana and a Google Sheet, I’ll jot down every idea, every task, every detail and, on a regular basis, I’ll review those details and come up with new ideas and tasks and notes. I will calendar block hours at a time to plan and still more hours to execute whatever tasks have the highest priority.
As a result, attendees and partners alike walk into my events in awe at the attention to detail.
I create a virtual event planning checklist for myself and follow it as closely as an influencer does TikTok trends.
For example, my Agency Summit event took place during the middle of the pandemic so of course it was 100% virtual. But I wanted attendees to feel as though they had been transported to Paris where Agorapulse is based, so first, I made sure that my designers shared that vision and integrated Parisian imagery into the lobby area. As soon as every attendee logged in, they saw a beautiful view of Paris through “windows” in the lobby.
Second, I scripted an important welcome video that automatically played as soon as a new attendee logged in. Like a kiosk in a real lobby, it helped orient them to where the keynotes, booths and table talks were, and I asked our Head of Customer Care, Kristell, to provide her beautiful French voice to the video.
Taken individually, little details like that seemingly aren’t important. An attendee will learn the same material whether the lobby looks Parisian or not. But when you take the time to plan and execute a myriad of details, they combine and grow exponentially to create a WOW factor for attendees that’s unmatched.
Virtual Event Plan Execution
Of course, all of those details won’t matter if your videos don’t load or your keynote speaker doesn’t show up, so proper execution of your critical event functions is non-negotiable.
And sometimes, that requires you to juggle.
I guarantee that the moment there’s a major technical challenge that requires your immediate attention, that is when some other technical challenge will occur and multiple attendees will simultaneously ask questions that demand responses right away.
As an event coordinator, it’ll be up to you to manage all of those pulls on your attention at the same time. Under pressure.
No one said this would be easy.
Fortunately, the more time you spend planning and preparing, the less likely it will be that you’ll face multiple major issues at once. While you cannot foresee and forestall every possible problem, there are definitely problems that every other virtual event has run into which you can actually account for in advance! Those are the crazies I like to avoid whenever possible, like jarring potholes in the road that, when you know the road and know that gaping maw is just around the next bend, you can gently ease over to miss it rather than wildly swerve at the last minute.
For instance, if you’re running an online summit as the sole virtual event planner, and you plan to have multiple sessions, you can choose not to schedule those as simultaneous live streams. You can, instead, choose to schedule live streams in succession, with a little buffer time in between, so that you have time to handle each live stream and potentially deal with any problems. A solo virtual event coordinator who wants to offer multiple tracks in their event can set up the secondary tracks as pre-recorded presentations that play automatically! That frees you up to focus on the session which has the greater degree of technical requirements and risk.
And there are many, many more choices and allowances which can be made if sufficient time is spent planning. Ask me how.
Most importantly, throughout the entire execution of an online summit or webinar, the virtual event planner’s top priority is to remain calm, no matter what. Even if nothing is working, you must remain calm and focused on solving one solvable problem at a time.
When the official registration and access emails for my last event went out the evening before the event, and not a damn one of them had the right link embedded, it was a disaster. 2500+ attendees were just emailed how to log into the event and couldn’t, and therefore wouldn’t be showing up! But after a few choice oaths muttered, I worked with the platform service provider and within a few hours, the issue was solved and new emails were sent out, along with posts to our social channels and messages prepared for our support team in the event of questions.
I stayed calm and worked on solving the solvable problems, one at a time.
Just like the birthday party. Would it have been great to have been there half an hour before everyone else? You bet. But traffic and circumstances didn’t pan out that way so instead of getting upset, we worked the problem. I made half a dozen trips between the parking lot and the studio while my wife arranged platters and decor and got everything ready. Meanwhile, while we were bustling around, we made time to smile at parents and daughters and answer questions like where should they sit and when should the parent come back?
Which meant that not a single friend or parent thought anything was wrong. They all assumed we intended to be setting up the food while everyone else was getting settled in front of their canvas. We didn’t panic and therefore no one else did either. Within a few moments of everyone arriving, the instructor and the girls got to work painting and when we were ready, we invited them to grab a plate of food and some punch and then get back to work on their art.
That level of control isn’t easy and doesn’t come automatically. It’s only possible when you have a solid virtual event plan and know what needs to be done, and have thought through the most plausible scenarios.
It’s the same reason coaches draw up plays and athletes run through drills. Even though the other team’s players will do what they think best during the game, the repetition develops muscle memory and creates far easier decision-making systems for each player. They know what they’re capable of and have pre-programmed responses for common scenarios.
That’s one of the key reasons I’ve begun offering #SoldOutSummits, a full day intensive where we spend a Saturday going through your entire event from strategy to successful execution, and everything in between, and develop a comprehensive virtual event plan together, complete with templates and swipe files.
If you’re going to host a virtual event in the coming months, let’s make sure your attendees walk away feeling Wow’d.